Playing fast, playing with confidence on 'D'

Tough lessons learned last fall paying off now, Sark says, for a defense that can cover and play aggressive in a way they couldn't until now.

Two words Su'a Cravens and Steve Sarkisian use to describe what's different about the junior-to-be defender's progress this spring.

"Every day," Su'a said after Saturday's full-pads practice at the Coliseum, "that's my challenge . . . to understand the fundamentals of what they're letting me do . . . to mix my speed with power."

Sark sees it this way when he says "every day" for Su'a, who is leading a defense that has shown up every day this spring.

"He's always around the ball," Sark says of something that happens almost every play, it seems now, with Su'a. "But he's doing it with great effort now every day."

"He's had a great spring," Sark said. "He's so disruptive at the line of scrimmage with his ability to get to the passer."

And the get to the passer from at least five different places. "Corner, inside linebacker, SAM, safety and corner," Su'a ticks them off with a big smile. And from either side.

That diversity of duties has him not absolutely certain what weight he'll play at this fall. "I expect to be 215 to 220 but it could be as high as 230." He'll wait to see what works.

What's different now, in addition to all the places he's coming from Su'a says, is how he's getting there. "I've been working on my technique," in the pass rush, he says, "my hands and my moves." As a safety going into last season, that wasn't a high priority.

"You definitely have to be aware of where he is," Max Browne says, "he's so crafty and savvy."

It's back to high school, for Su'a, in effect. He lined up at the line of scrimmage "probably 90 percent of the time" then, he says. "Now it's back to my bread and butter. They're letting me diagnose plays and make plays."

Which is why he has to stay in every play every day. "They're trusting me to get it right."

That trust to make a play is changing USC's approach to defense. Four weeks of spring has Sark saying this team can play press coverage, can go man-to-man and that allows them to send Su'a.

"We want to be really aggressive," Sark says, "we want to put pressure on the quarterback . . . to do that, you have to be able to cover . . . We think we're going to be a really good defense."

And unlike last season, this team can cover and press and take things away from offenses, is that correct?

"I think so," Sark says. Which is a result of some of the tough times trying it last fall when the result might have been a penalty or just plain getting beat. "We just didn't have enough confidence."

That was for both the players and the coaches. Now they do. It could change everything.

Max gets to air it out

They let Max Browne throw it deep to finish up the day Saturday and he obliged, hitting Isaac Whitney for 80 yards and a TD followed up by contested catches by Steven Mitchell and Juju Smith.

"They kind of did," Max said of getting his number called for the long ball. "That was a fun practice for sure."

Even the ball "that didn't come off my hand right," which had Mitchell coming back to beat double coverage for it, worked for him, Max said. "I've always been able to throw the long ball with touch and put air under it."

The difference now is that he's so much stronger that he can do it without a great deal of effort. "You work short, short, short, you run it and then the DBs come up and . . . that's how we've always tried to play."

"Our quarterbacks made some big plays," Sark said of Saturday. "Max made those big throws and Cody had a chance . . . " with a couple of throws into the end zone in the red zone segment of 11 on 11 but one was just a bit late to Mitchell in the end zone from the 25, the other just off JuJu's fingers, also for a score against the first D.

Adoree says

By next season, Adoree Jackson says he hopes his football is in a place where he could take the time to accompany the track team to an event like the Florida Relays this weekend . . . "Maybe, we'll see how it goes" . . . asked about two kinds of "catchup speed," Adoree said of defenders' ability to catch up to him if he beats them on a move: "If I beat somebody, they're not catching me," he says. But if the reverse happens when he's at corner, "I definitely feel I have enough speed to recover."


A couple of players singled out for praise were defensive back Chris Hawkins, who Sark said has benefited greatly from the tough lessons learned in the fall and Darreus Rogers, who is making the tough catches in traffic with his strong hands even if he can't run away from defenders . . . USC returns to practice Tuesday at the Coliseum in a closed-to-the-public 3:30 p.m. workout with the lone open-to-the-public practice Thursday at Cromwell Field on campus . . . two players dinged up Thursday were back with no problems -- Steven Mitchell and Cody Temple . . . Khaliel Rodgers, who had a shoulder issue flare up Tuesday, didn't practice in pads but did the full rehab workout . . . Toa Lobendahn again took over as second-team center with Nico Falah spelling him at left tackle with the first offense . . . defense won the finishing portion of practice again with three straight stops at the 20 . . .

CHECK THIS OUT: More details on Saturday's workout at SATURDAY SPRING DAY 12 GHOST NOTES.

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